Live in America [DVD]

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This reviewer looked rather askance at this DVD, from a 2002 show at the Patriots Theater in New Jersey, as would be expected -- any Focus release without Jan Akkerman is, after all, pulling one's leg just a little bit, or so it seemed. But guitarist Jan Dumée has such fine interplay with Thijs Van Leer's Hammond organ on the concert opener, "Focus I," that it was impossible not to at least give the group a fair hearing. The mix of achingly beautiful lyricism and high-energy jamming is as beguiling today as it was 30 years before when the band broke in the United States. "Focus II," "Focus III," and even "House of the King" -- arguably one of Akkerman's most personalized pieces -- work convincingly in the hands of this lineup. There's also a brace of pieces that the group never had a chance to perform live, and they're not a disappointment. One of the reasons that Focus was so successful in the first place, once their initial membership was in place, was that they were a true progressive rock outfit, emphasis on both words, equally capable of playing straight classical (or, or that matter, jazz) or, in the same breath, launching into soaring guitar-driven excursions that could carry a listener far from their source without ever entirely losing sight of the original, and also of freely mixing the two elements. And they're still good at it -- Van Leer looks like he's about 70, which may be a result of his substantial girth, while the other members of the band look a third to a half of that age. He keeps up, as do they, and while the rhythm section (especially the drumming) seems slightly under-recorded, those problems can be adjusted. The camera work is very lively, the editing smooth and keeping viewers close to whatever musician should be watched, and overall this is a disc and a performance that will please even die-hard fans of the original band. They even do an enjoyable version of "Hocus Pocus" (this reviewer's least favorite Focus song), though Dumée must provide the high notes on the yodeling at this stage of the band's existence -- he also turns in a performance that sounds like Jan Akkerman's work speeded up by a third. Otherwise, as seems typical of Classic Rock's releases, the chapter numbers never seem to match up exactly with the song list, yet there's nothing promised that isn't here, and a lot more delivered than one could reasonably expect -- even an outtake of one medley of material and a short featurette.